The Sermon on the Mount


©1996 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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 Gospels in Harmony Series

   The contextual setting of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is extremely important for interpreting the implications of what He was saying. As He revealed Himself as the divine Messiah in a completely different kingdom there was an inevitable and constant conflict with religion. The Jewish Pharisees and scribes were dogging his every step, spying on His every movement, and trying to entrap Him in His words and actions in order to bring semi-justifiable charges against Him.

   Jesus had moved progressively farther away from the center of religion in Jerusalem of Judea, having settled in Capernaum in the northernmost part of the region of Galilee, and periodically venturing farther north and west. The religious leaders followed Him wherever He went, apparently regarding Him to be a threat to their control over the people.

   Of particular concern to the religionists was the radical statements Jesus seemed to be making about His ushering in the kingdom of God. The Jews of the first century believed that God was going to intervene on their behalf, deliver them militaristically from Roman rule, and establish a Jewish kingdom in a physical and material realm which would be religiously nationalistic and racially pure. Jesus spoke of a kingdom wherein He would reign as King, and such was unsettling both to the Jews and the Romans.

   When Jesus was "proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23), He was speaking of a spiritual reality that was as different from the Jewish expectation of the kingdom as day and night. Since natural men, religious men, cannot understand spiritual things (I Cor. 2:14), they could not understand that Jesus was not referring to a kingdom that was essentially a physical time and space realm, but to a kingdom that was essentially spiritual and eternal, yet lived out in physical time and space. "My kingdom is not of this realm or world," Jesus later explained (John 18:36). "The kingdom has come" (Matt. 12:28), Jesus said, for it is inherent in My presence and being and action. The kingdom Jesus came to bring was the dynamic and ontological reign of His life as Lord and King in the lives of those who received Him by faith. Wherever Jesus was the spiritual kingdom could function. The Kingdom of God came with "power" (Mk. 9:1) at Pentecost (Acts 2) after Jesus was "declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). The kingdom is present and yet future, already inaugurated though not yet fully consummated.

   In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is explaining the essence and functionality of the kingdom He came to bring in Himself, in contrast to the old covenant religion of Judaism. This new covenant kingdom of grace would function not on the basis of legal and ethical principles and precepts, but by the divine dynamic of the person and life of Jesus. The Jewish religionists were scattered among the audience listening as Jesus noted the radical contrasts between their religion and the life of the kingdom that was His life.

   Subsequent religious thinking has been as dull and obtuse as were the original Jewish antagonists. Religion still tries to cast the kingdom into a physical, material and nationalistic realm. Some strive to reconstruct God's dominion and theocratic rule by imposing what they consider to be "kingdom principles" on present Western government, trying to bring the kingdom of God into being by force and violence, and install the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount as the "law of the land." Others regard Jesus' comments about the kingdom to be a projection of a kingdom that is a space and time realm of one thousand year duration in the future in Palestine, in which case it is not relevant and applicable to Christians today. The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount thus becomes the "law of the future millennial kingdom," and they fail to comprehend the present dynamic vitality of Christ's life as Lord and King. Still others regard the Sermon on the Mount as an "interim law" until Jesus comes again, twisting Jesus' statements into an ethical ideal of principles and precepts, behavioral standards and regulations, which Christian people should strive to conform to in order to live like Christians and make the world a better place. What they all fail to understand is that the Sermon on the Mount is not a codification of a new covenant form of "law," but a preview of the new covenant kingdom wherein God's grace would function in the life of Jesus Christ within receptive Christians.

   It is therefore imperative that we understand what Jesus was saying about the essence and functionality of His kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount.

(59) The Sermon on the Mount - Matt. 5:1 ­ 8;1; Lk. 6:17-49.

   Matthew explains that Jesus "went up on the mountain" to teach, whereas Luke's account has Jesus already on the mountain and descending to "a level place" such as a plateau to teach those who had gathered. Their explanations of the physical setting are not incompatible and are the basis of referring to this teaching as the "Sermon on the Mount."

   The question of whether this was a singular message which Matthew transcribed word-for-word, or whether this was an accumulation of material from sermons which Jesus taught over and over again, is not a serious issue to be concerned about. If it is a collection or compilation of Jesus' teaching, such does not impinge upon the inspiration of Scripture. It is overly-objectified religion that insists on precise literalness in their bibliolatrous deification of the Book.

(60) Kingdom blessing and witness - Matt. 5:3-12; Lk. 6:20-26

   The first words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount refer to the blessings of God, the privilege of divine favor, mercy and grace, upon the attitudes and actions of certain people. Certain attitudes and conditions are indicative of those who are "approved of God" in the kingdom, though we must always recognize that "all the blessings of God are ours in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). Kingdom participants are not affirmed in or promised a "chance happiness" or "fortune," as some English translations indicate, but participate in the divine blessing of God in Christ.

   The "poor in spirit" are participants in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus proclaimed. The onlooking religionists were haughty and proud in their self-righteousness, so Jesus contrasts those of His kingdom who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and unworthiness, admitting their impotency, their need, their dependence on a spiritual resource beyond themselves. Those who recognize that they do not have what it takes in themselves may discover that their spiritual need and poverty becomes abundant and unfathomable spiritual riches in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:18; 3:8,16). "Having nothing, yet possessing all things" (II Cor. 6:10), the Christian has "all things" in Christ (I Cor. 3:21-23). When Jesus reigns as King in our lives we have all things that belong to the King. Religion does not have a solution for spiritual poverty, so they emphasize social programs to attempt to alleviate physical and material poverty. Like the Jewish religion of Jesus' day, they view material prosperity as a sign of God's favor and blessing. They often seek to raise people up from their financial poverty into their own middle or upper class level in an egalitarian society so that the "poor people" will not have to be dependent any longer. In so doing they encourage self-dependence and self-sufficiency rather than the dependency of spiritual need and receptivity which is indicative of Christ's kingdom, and thus restrain people from the kingdom of heaven.

   "Those who mourn" are comforted within the kingdom Jesus came to bring in Himself. Judaic religion of the first century mourned with self-pity that they could not have what they wanted in self-rule and self-direction. Religion through the centuries has often mourned that it did not have all the wealth that it wanted in order to do what it wanted in the guise of benevolent service to mankind. In contrast to such religious mourning, Jesus seems to be saying that the comfort of God is available in the kingdom for those who mourn over their own sinfulness and wretchedness (Rom. 7:24), as well as the sinfulness of others. Those who mourn that people are going to hell without spiritual and everlasting life; those who mourn the cynicism and lack of integrity in society; those who mourn that people with real needs are not being ministered to by religion which despises and rejects certain types of people, like tax-collectors and "sinners" and lepers; these mourners will be comforted by the fact that the character of Christ in the kingdom of grace does indeed respond with compassion and deal with sin and evil. The Messiah grants to "those who mourn in Zion, the oil of gladness instead of mourning" (Isa. 61:3), for He is "the consolation of Israel" (Lk. 2:25). The "God of all comfort" (II Cor. 1:3) "comforts us in abundance through Christ" (II Cor. 1:5), for the Spirit of Christ serves as the "Comforter" (John 14:16,26). There is a present comfort in Christ for our mourning, and we look forward in hope to the experience of the kingdom wherein there is "no death or mourning" (Rev. 21:4) for any therein.

   Contrary to the ways of the world and of religion, wherein the strong, aggressive and assertive engage in strong-arm power tactics to succeed and become victorious, the followers of Jesus in the kingdom will through meekness, gentleness and humility inherit the earth. The Pharisaic religionists were conniving politically with the Herodians (Mk. 3:6), and later with the Roman authorities, to achieve their own ends of dispensing with Jesus. Throughout history religion has employed political power-plays and prostituted itself with governmental authorities to gain advantage. Jesus indicates that those within the Christian kingdom will humbly allow themselves to be humiliated without seeking to protect their dignity or reputation. Jesus presented Himself as King "meekly mounted on a donkey" (Matt. 21:5), instead of on a white steed of victory, symbolically evidencing that His power was of an entirely different kind than that of the world. Jesus is "gentle and humble in heart" (Matt. 11:29), and those who are identified with Him are to function in the "meekness and gentleness of Christ" (II Cor. 10:1), expressing the gentleness that is a "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:23). Meekness is not weakness, for Moses who was "meek more than any other man on earth" (Numb. 12:3) was not cowardly, indecisive or wishy-washy, but was a strong leader. Those in the kingdom of Christ who are willing to renounce all their rights of self-assertion, who refuse to defend themselves and are patient under attack, will discover that by such a Christian attitude they will "overcome" and "inherit the earth" (Isa. 37:11).

   Another feature of the radical kingdom that Jesus came to bring in Himself was that "those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled and satisfied." The Jewish religionists were, at the very moment Jesus spoke these words, salivating as they sought to sabotage the successful ministry of Jesus, hungering and thirsting after an expedient means to murder the Messiah. Most religion is unsatiated in its gluttonous self-indulgence of seeking its own ends. Religion hungers and thirsts after power and influence, blessings and experiences, knowledge and witnessing skills, and righteousness by meritorious performance, but they seem to know nothing of the intense desire for the character of divine righteousness. In the kingdom of Christ those who passionately want and seek that righteousness which they realize they cannot establish for themselves by religious means and merit (Phil. 3:9), will be filled and satisfied with the righteousness which comes by grace through Jesus Christ. As the spiritual "Bread of life" (John 6:35) and "living water" (John 4:11-14), Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst. Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; I Jn. 2:1) fills us with Himself, and becomes to us righteousness (I Cor. 1:30), in order to manifest the fruit of His righteousness (Phil. 1:11) in our behavior.

   In Jesus' kingdom the merciful are blessed in their receipt of God's mercy. The contrast of such was evident in the Jewish religionists who were trying to entrap Jesus in order to "blackball" Him and demand vindictive punishment. Religion has so often been hard-nosed and unforgiving in its unremitting demand for law and order, callously delighting that people "get what they deserve." To be merciful is to be moved with empathy and pity for those who are miserable and in need. Mercy is not afraid to get dirty helping others, or to be ostracized for consorting with "publicans and sinners." God "saved us according to His mercy" (Titus 3:5), for Jesus served as the "merciful and faithful High Priest" (Heb. 2:17), coming to us "while we were yet sinners" (Rom. 5:8) and undeserving of mercy. The "mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:21), the Merciful One, is evidenced in the kingdom living of those who have experienced God's grace far beyond what they deserve.

   Whereas the hearts of the Jewish religionists were filled with sinful, selfish and sinister motivations as they sought to stifle Jesus, Jesus contrasts such with the "pure in heart" within the kingdom. Jesus exposes the hearts of religionists as being "deceitful and sick" (Jere. 17:9), and "filled with evil" (Matt. 12:34) which spills out in "evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, slanders" etc. (Matt. 15:19). Knowing nothing of "purity of heart" religion strives only for the external pseudo-purity of parochial piety. The hearts of those in the kingdom of Christ are fixed on Him, having been "purified" (Titus 2:14), and thus "purifying themselves as He is pure" (I John 3:3). Thereby Christians can experience the purity of heart which is set free from distracting double-minded desires (James 4:18) and fantasies in order to "see" God at work in the new covenant kingdom of Christianity. Such was the desire of David when he expressed his desire for "clean hands and a pure heart" in order to "ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place" and "receive blessing and righteousness from the God of his salvation" (Ps. 24:3-6), and that desire is now fulfilled in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

   Peacemakers are approved in the kingdom, for being called "sons" of the "God of peace" (I Thess. 5:23), they are "like Father, like son." The Jewish religionists who were staking Jesus out at the time were not peacemakers for they were not seeking peace either with Rome or with Jesus. They were looking for conflict, eager to become embroiled in battle. It has been said that "fundamentalists always fight," engaging in disputes to defend their narrowly defined doctrines and codes of conduct. The history of religion is replete with religious wars, inquisitions, and cruel crusades. Jesus is the promised "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6) who "brings good news and announces peace" (Isa. 52:7). He is Himself our peace (Eph. 2:14), and in Him we have peace (John 16:33). He gives His peace to us (John 14:27) that we might "pursue peace with all men" (Heb. 12:14). To be "peacemakers" in the kingdom is not to be appeasers who always capitulate, but it does mean that we seek to settle differences of opinion and difficulties with the peace and love of Jesus Christ.

   The kingdom of God will include "those persecuted for the sake of righteousness" who are reviled and falsely accused because of their identification and spiritual union with Jesus Christ. In general, religion wants to be recognized, accepted and revered; and when rejected, reviled or falsely accused it will defend itself to the death. In particular, the Jewish religionists protected their rights and privileges very closely. Status and prestige, based upon ancestry, wealth, authority, education and virtue, were of ultimate importance. The admiration and attention of men were so highly valued that they would rather die by committing suicide than lose face before men. Jesus seems to explain that such status and reputation is not to be sought and will not be maintained in the kingdom of God. Those who are identified with Him will be falsely accused, reviled and persecuted. "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20), Jesus said. "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before you" (John 15:18). "In the world you have tribulation" (John 16:33). "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12), adds Paul. When we are wronged or mistreated, slandered or falsely accused, ridiculed or ostracized for His sake, we are not to retaliate or seek to escape. Peter advises that Jesus "while being reviled, did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (I Peter 2:23), and His consistent character will seek to do the same in the Christian.

   It is so evident in these beatitudes of Jesus that the function of the spiritual kingdom of heaven is antithetical to all religious kingdoms and their practices. The kingdom of Christ is opposed to and will triumph over the kingdom of Satan, who as the "god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4) and the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) is the promoter of all religion. Christianity, the functionality of the kingdom, is not religion, but is the dynamic manifestation of the life of Jesus Christ.

(61) Kingdom visibility and righteousness - Matt. 5:13-16

   Participants in the kingdom will be conspicuously different from those in the world around them. The invisible character of God is made visible in their behavior and will leave a stamp on the world around them, for such is the "image of God." This divine character expression of humility and purity, righteousness and mercy will cause them to stand out as unique and of a different kind. The good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in (Eph. 2:10) and equipped us for by His empowering (II Tim. 3:17; Heb. 13:20,21) and the sufficiency of His grace (II Cor. 9:8), will of necessity bring glory to God. Such a visible expression will not always be appreciated by the world around us for it will expose the world's selfish ways and their adaptation within religion. Walking as children of light (Eph. 5:8), we will "appear as lights in the world, blameless and above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" (Phil. 2:15). Those in whom Christ reigns as Lord and King will often stick out like a sore thumb, stand out as the odd-man out, and provide a salty seasoning to a society that does not want to be preserved from its rottenness. Although religion sometimes causes its adherents to "stand-out" by their weird expressions of piety, by becoming social nuisances in their evangelistic zeal, or by insistence on engagement in their causes, Christians will stand out by their expression of godly character and activity. We are salt and light because Christ in us is the One who preserves the world from rottenness and exposes the darkness of the world by His light (John 8:12). It is not that we possess some saltiness or enlightenment, nor that we must strive to become salt or light, but because of Christ's indwelling presence we are salt and light expressions. Visible expression of such is a logical and spiritual necessity. We must behave like who we have become. As Bonhoeffer so aptly explained, "Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call."1

(62) Kingdom Righteousness - Matt. 5:17-20

   The expression of God's righteous character in kingdom participants is superior to and far surpasses the legal conformity of behavior that is falsely called "righteousness" by those engaged in religion. Jesus explained that "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Religious attempts to behave righteously by external conformity and correctness to standardized codes of conduct are always self-defeating, for despite our best efforts at behavior modification in order to be like God we can never reach such perfection by ourselves. Religion knows that and employs oppressive authoritarianism to dominate and intimidate people into ever-increasing guilt-producing efforts to conform and to be righteous and perfect. Righteousness will never be a personal achievement of man. Kingdom righteousness exceeds and surpasses that of religion because it is the extraordinary and supernatural righteousness of Jesus Christ, who as the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; I Jn. 2:1) becomes to us righteousness (I Cor. 1:30) in spiritual condition, and thus internally and spiritually empowers the fruit of the expression of His character of righteousness (Phil. 1:11; James 3:18) in Christian behavior.

   A primary tool of religious oppression has been the moralistic and ethical use of the law. In the old covenant God had given the Law to Moses for man's benefit so that he could recognize the character of God and his own inability to enact such. The Law was not intended to be a legalistic club to be used by religionists to beat mankind into conformity and slavery, but Jewish religion began to use the Law for selfish and destructive purposes. In the first century A.D. Pharisaic Judaism tended to equate the Law with God, but at the same time interpreted it with self-serving traditions and found hypocritical loopholes to avoid compliance. Since the Law had been deified and absolutized (much like how fundamentalistic and evangelical religion treats the Scripture today), it needed to be relativized by being made relative to the Person and Being of Jesus Christ, but at the same time without denigrating what God had done by giving the Law in the old covenant.

   Jesus carefully explained, therefore, that He had come not to denigrate the Law and the Prophets of the old covenant, but to actualize them with all the fullness of God's eternal intent. The Law is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12) for it expresses the holy, righteous and good character of God, and that same God who gave the Law is the same God who is working in Jesus Christ. Jesus did not want to disconnect or detach the old from the new expressions of God's activity. He did not come to set loose the Law from its moorings in the activity of God. He did not come to set the Law adrift as a meaningless "social experiment" in religion and morality from the past. He did not come to "trash" the Law, to denounce it derisively as God's disaster of the Old Testament era. He did not come to discount and devalue and defame the Law of the Old Testament as a failure, a fiasco, a plan that did not work. He did not come to write the Law off as God's mistake, as wrong, useless, and having no purpose. He did not come to demolish and tear down the Law in contempt and disgust. He did not come to denigrate, deprecate, depreciate, or decimate the Old Testament Law with disdain and derision. Jesus knew that the Law had served God's good purposes historically as the preliminary and instrumental introduction to the righteousness that is in Jesus Christ.

   Though not wanting to raze the Law, He did want to raise the Law to its eternal and essential purpose by bringing to full fruition all that the Law pointed to pictorially and custodially. Jesus fulfills the Law not only by historically fulfilling the promises and the prophecies thereof, but even more importantly by completing, actualizing and consummating the Law by personally becoming its full intended content. Jesus becomes the divine dynamic of God's character, the living Torah, the Law, the Word of God, empowering such divine character as the Law expressed by His ontological presence in the spirit of those who receive Him as King in the kingdom. The externality of moral behavioral conformity to the Law's demands is displaced and replaced by the internality of the presence of Jesus Himself, "the law written in our hearts" (Heb. 8:10;10:16). Christ is the end of the law for righteousness (Rom. 10:4), for genuine righteousness is not derived from ethical conformity to the Law (Phil. 3:9), but only from God in Christ on the basis of the receptivity of faith. The character of God which the Law expressed is never obsolete and can never be abrogated, but His righteousness and love do find a fullness of dynamic expression as the life and love of Jesus is expressed within Christians. "Love is the fulfillment of the Law" (Rom. 13:10).

(63) Reconciliation; Not Murder - Matt. 5:21-26

   Jesus proceeds to give six examples of the surpassing righteousness that is to be found in Himself in the kingdom. Whereas religion offers external regulations usually in the form of prohibitions, Jesus wants to show that kingdom living is by the internalized provision of the Spirit of Himself. He keys off of the regulations of the religionists by contrasting what "they say..." and what He says.

   The Old Testament Law contained the admonition, "You shall not murder" (Exod. 20:13) as the sixth of the ten commandments with which all Jewish people were very familiar. Murder is an external action that usually stems out of an internal attitude of anger, wrath, contempt, spite, hostility or animosity. Just because a person has refrained from committing the external action of murder does not mean he is internally pure, gentle, merciful and righteous as those in the kingdom are to be. When the internal attitude is one of anger and hostility, it is often acted out in rash acts of destruction and homicide, as Moses himself had experienced (Exod. 2:12; Numb. 20:10,11). Even when the attitude of anger does not lead to physical murder it can be personally destructive when verbally expressed in abusive language employing contemptuous epithets and derogative insults. Whether it be the psychological slaying of character assassination or the name-calling and labeling of another as a "brainless idiot," these words are designed to hurt, damage, disgrace and destroy. Religionists have been quite guilty of hurling derogative insults of heresy at others who do not conform to their thought and action, as well as actual murder in their religious wars. Such is indicative of character that is derived from the diabolic spirit who is a "murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44; I Jn. 3:12). Jesus goes beyond the externalities of the Law's demands, explaining that hatred (I John 3:15) and anger are not consistent with the divine character and life, and evidence the need for a spiritual exchange within the new covenant kingdom whereby the Spirit of God comes to indwell an individual and to manifest His character in our behavior. The character of Christ's love produces new attitudes of forgiveness, mercy and compassion which allow us to cease holding grudges against others, to be reconciled, and to have loving unity in our interpersonal relationships.

(64) Faithfulness; Not Adultery - Matt. 5:27-31

   A second example of the internality of spiritual provision in the kingdom contrasted to the externality of religion has to do with adultery. The Law clearly stated, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). The external act of having sexual relationship outside of God's intended context of a husband and wife within marriage was strictly prohibited. God's intent is that His created human beings manifest His character of fidelity and purity within their sexual relationships. But once again the action of abstaining from improper sexual activities externally does not necessarily forestall sinful attitudes of sensual desire within. Later in His ministry Jesus said that "from within, out of the heart of men proceed the evil thoughts and fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, deceit, sensuality, etc. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mk. 7:21-23). Within the kingdom we are to understand that behavior is generated from an indwelling spirit whose character we activate in our behavior. When we view persons of the opposite sex merely as sex objects, gazing upon physical bodies and allowing our minds and emotions to imagine and fantasize, contemplating adultery or even rape, then we have chosen to allow the character of the Evil One to become activated in our willingness. Religion has often been guilty of such sexual abuse and adultery (II Pet. 2:2,14; Rev. 2:22), and the Jewish religionists of Jesus' day were likewise guilty (Matt. 15:8,19,20). The need of mankind is to have a new heart and a new spirit within (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26) with a new nature and a new character of purity and faithfulness. This is provided within the kingdom in Jesus Christ and expressed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). Jesus seems to make use of overstatement in His admonition to tear out the eye or cut off the hand if they are instruments that precipitate adultery in viewing or taking what does not belong to you, for He was fully aware that self-mutilation of body parts in the removal of eyes or hands would not eliminate lustful desires. The intent of His comments are to emphasize the priority of spiritual renewal wherein we allow for repentance and the cutting off of sin from our hearts in order to allow God's purity and faithfulness to be activated in our behavior.

(65) Marital Union; Not Divorce - Matt. 5:32

   Divorce was another issue that Jesus used to explain the "surpassing righteousness" of the kingdom. Although Moses had permitted divorce among the Jewish people "because of their hardness of heart" (Matt. 19:8), simply requiring the discontented husband to provide his wife with a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24:1,3), Jesus again wanted to reveal that the external enactments were not the real issue, but the internal attitudes toward marriage were of prime importance. When God made mankind as male and female (Gen. 1:27) and caused them to be joined in "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24) in marriage, such a marital relationship was not to be a provisional arrangement but an indissoluble union intended to portray that the two were becoming one. "God hates divorce" (Mal. 2:16), for it desecrates the expression of His character of unity and love. The Jewish religionists of Jesus' day treated divorce as a triviality, sanctioning divorce with loose interpretations that allowed divorce for any cause, and religionists of subsequent generations have treated divorce as a mere externality as well. Jesus wanted to point out that within the kingdom of God our spiritual regeneration should provide the character to overcome selfishness, evil desires, and the hardness of heart that allowed for easy divorce and sexual impropriety, granting us instead the character of Christ in love and unity and fidelity leading to loving relationships that are not torn asunder. Within the kingdom our marital relationships are to portray the loving unity of the spiritual relationship between Christ, the Bridegroom and His bride, the Church (Eph. 5:23,29,32).

(66) Truth; Not Oaths - Matt. 5:33-37

   God's character of truthfulness and honesty is another issue in the kingdom of God. Within the old covenant this feature of God's character had been emphasized by repeated inculcations. "You shall not swear falsely by My name" (Lev. 19:12). "If a man makes a vow or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word" (Numb. 30:2). "When you make a vow to God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin" (Deut. 23:21-23). "It is better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay" (Eccl. 5:4,5). Over the centuries the Jewish religionists had developed all sorts of regulations about oath-taking which were but convenient loopholes and evasive justifications for lying and deceit. Jesus reamed the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of integrity in "swearing by the gold of the temple" (Matt. 23:16-22). In like manner religion through the subsequent centuries has allowed for "little white lies" to be regarded as venial violations which are excusable, allowed for the expedience of the end justifying the means, dogmatized what could not be documented Scripturally, and engaged in fallacious illustration to play on people's emotions, all the while advocating "swearing" and "cursing" prohibitions based on Jesus' words. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were identified with the devil, who is "the father of lies" (John 8:44), and explained that if we cannot answer a straightforward "Yes" or "No," then any other answer of equivocation is derived from the Evil One. "Make no oaths at all," Jesus said, and then you will not have to worry about sworn testimonies and assurances, and the possibility of perjury and falsehood. Within the kingdom of God Jesus Christ is the indwelling Truth (John 14:6), and such Truth sets us free (John 8:32,36) to manifest the integrity, the honesty, and the reliability of the character of God in our behavior.

(67) Grace; Not Retributioin - Matt. 5:38-42

   "Vengeance is Mine" (Deut. 32:35), declared the Lord, but the old covenant Law contained a system of retribution for making wrongs right. The Israelites were advised to show no pity or mercy, but to extract and inflict life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot (Exod. 21:23,24; Lev. 24:19,20; Deut. 19:21). This external application of social justice rapidly degenerated into personal vendettas full of malice, hatred and vengeance from within the selfish heart of man. Religion through the centuries has likewise tended to be vindictive and retaliatory, administering "tit for tat" equivalence. Jesus explains that within His kingdom this is to be radically different. If our spiritual identity is united with Jesus Christ and all of our worth is found in Him, then we have nothing to protect or defend. We do not have to react in violent self-defense and retaliatory revenge in order to "save face" and protect our personal rights and personal reputation, even if we are wronged and violated. Bonhoeffer calls this "freedom from the tyranny of our own ego."2 Kingdom living should evidence a carefree detachment from personal reputation, money, things, and impositions. When we give up all rights to what we naturally think we "own" and are willing to be wronged and robbed, then we can act in God's grace through Jesus Christ to share, give and serve others above and beyond what they may ask or demand. Some have asked whether this means that Christians should always "give in," capitulate, "roll over and play dead," and never stand up for what is right, but always respond in pacifistic non-resistance. Though there is a time to stand up for what is right, our personal reactions are to be non-retaliatory and non-violent. When Jesus was reviled, He reviled not in return (I Peter 2:23), and so it is that the character of Christ expressed within kingdom participants will not be defensive, vindictive or retaliatory, but respond in gracious generosity and service to others.

(68) Love; Not Hate - Matt. 5:43-48; Lk. 6:27-30, 32-36

   The sixth example of the "surpassing righteousness" of the kingdom has to do with "loving your neighbor." The old covenant law clearly indicated that God's people were to "love their neighbor as themselves" (Lev. 19:18), but the Jewish religionists debated how to exclusively define their "neighbor," as well as the extent of concern, compassion or cooperation that such love might entail. The Law did not advocate "hating your enemies," but such was a logical consequence of narrowly defining one's "neighbor." The Jewish religion and culture of the first century had a narrowly developed sense of national solidarity and elitist collectivity. A "neighbor" was a fellow Jew who was a member of the same party, and believed and acted like you; one who was in the same group or brotherhood. They would stand together in loyalty and assistance with people of their own group, but had great prejudice and even hatred for those who were not of their group, and regarded them as enemies. Such group solidarity is thickest among criminals and religionists. Here in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is introducing the reality of the kingdom wherein the character of divine love would be extended to all men of the human race, even to one's enemies and persecutors. "God is love" (I John 4:8,16), and His love is "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us" (Rom. 5:5) as the "fruit of the Spirit" Gal. 5:22). Such love is not based on subjective feelings about the other person and their opinions and actions, but since it is God's love it shines and rains on the just and the unjust, and on the righteous and the unrighteous. Only God can love like that, loving the unlovable, the helpless, sinners and enemies (Rom. 5:6-10) with unconditional agape love, and we behave as sons of the Father in heaven when we allow such love to be evidenced through us to all men "in deed and truth" (I John 3:18), as the fulfillment of all that the Law required (Rom. 13:10). Loving those who are different and disagreeable, we recognize that the real spiritual enemy is the adversary, the devil, who is using and abusing people, even causing them to persecute and abuse us. We are surprised that they are not worse, knowing that the "god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4) is controlling their behavior, and allow good to overcome evil (Rom. 12:20,21) by expressing Christ's compassion and love toward them.

   The character of God expressed in the behavior of mankind is the essence of the function of the kingdom of God. Having noted that the "surpassing righteousness" of the kingdom will manifest God's forgiveness, mercy, compassion, purity, unity, love, fidelity, truthfulness, honesty, grace, and love in various circumstances, Jesus concludes by explaining that those in the kingdom "are to be perfect, as their heavenly Father is perfect." Again, such perfection of behavior is impossible in the religious program of performance and achievement wherein people are repeatedly encouraged to conform to and imitate exemplary behavior by moral and ethical behavior modification techniques and formulas. God's kingdom has a radically different modus operandi whereby the total provision for godly and righteous behavior is derived from God in Christ by His grace, as Christ reigns as Lord in our lives. Only as Jesus Christ, the Perfect One, the Merciful One (Lk. 6:36), the Holy One (I Pet. 1:16), the Loving One (I John 4:7) lives in us and manifests the perfect, merciful, holy and loving character of God in our behavior does the kingdom function as God intended.

(69) Kingdom genuineness - Matt. 6:1

   Recognizing the divine derivation of the godly character of perfection, holiness and righteousness in the kingdom, there is nevertheless a constant temptation to revert to external religious activities of piety which are self-manufactured in self-deception and hypocrisy. Religion is so concerned about what people think, its reputation, its "image," and it is therefore easily deluded into the conspicuous piety of public impressions enacted in hypocritical play-acting. Bonhoeffer noted the paradox of how "our activity must be visible, but never be done for the sake of making it visible," and how "we have to take heed that we do not take heed of our own righteousness."3 The concern of kingdom participants should only be what God thinks of us and whether we are available to all that He wants to be and do in us. The effects of His expressions are to be hidden from ourselves and disregarded, so that our behavior continues to be the spontaneous expression of the life of Jesus Christ, "no longer I, but Christ living in me" (Gal. 2:20).

(70) Giving - Matt. 6:2-4

   Jesus gives three illustrations of activities that are often paraded in public displays of piety by religion. Giving, prayer and fasting are the three examples of external ostentation that He uses to emphasize the contrast with the kingdom practice of internal communion and unobtrusive expression.

   Giving of the monetary resources that have been entrusted to us by God can easily degenerate into a public display of self-congratulation and self-glorification whereby we are honored by men for our generosity. Many in religion have attempted to buy a reputation of "spirituality" by advertising their benevolence. Egotistic philanthropy motivated by selfish pride is often evident in the brass memorial plagues that bedeck religious edifices. People want the credit for being the benefactor, and "blow their own horns" in varying public relations stunts to draw attention to their personal giving. In contrast to the literal trumpet blowing of the Jewish religionists as they gave alms, Jesus indicates that kingdom giving is to be private, secret and hidden. "Every perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17), and we must not take His credit, for Christian giving is not what we do, but what the giving God does through us. By the presence of the Spirit of Christ within the Christian, God's character of grace, givingness and generosity is available to be expressed through the behavior of kingdom participants. By the figurative language of "not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing," Jesus is indicating that those in the kingdom must not let their minds get caught up in getting attention by giving, for we will scarcely know or remember what we have given, since it was all prompted by the giving God within.

(71) Prayer - Matt. 6:5-15

   Prayer will also be a private matter for those in the kingdom, rather than the public parade of piety that it has often become in religion. The play-acting Pharisees engaged in prayer that was staged for public notice. They were showing-off in self-advertisement of their supposed piety. Religion has often made prayer a performance of repetitious verbosity and babble employing the pious intonations of a "prayer voice." Prayer within the kingdom is not a matter of "saying prayers" full of idle clichés, but is a private matter of personal communion with God wherein we recognize the necessity of our continued receptivity and obedience in prayers of faith (James 5:15). God knows our needs before we ever pray, so our prayers are not informing God of our needs, nor pleading and begging for His provision, which is always sufficient in Christ (Phil. 4:19). Kingdom prayer is Christocentric in that Jesus Christ is the subject, object and answer to all Christian prayer.

   A pattern for such prayer was verbalized by Jesus for those present. It was not intended as a formulized "Lord's Prayer" for repetitious liturgical use, as religion has henceforth used these words. Emphasizing the manner rather than the content, Jesus intended to show how kingdom prayer would recognize the total provision for all that is sought in Himself. "Our Father who is in heaven" is not distant, detached and removed, but is simultaneously transcendence and immanent, personally caring for every need of His spiritual children, having provided all for them in Jesus Christ. "Hallowed is His name" for His holy character has been extended to man in the Holy One, Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, and the only holiness of condition and behavior that we will ever experience must be derived from the Holy God through Jesus Christ. Prayer that God's "kingdom come," is always answered for "the kingdom has come" (Matt. 12:28) and we have been "transferred into the kingdom of the Son" (Col. 1:13) to "reign in life with Christ Jesus" (Rom. 5:17). To ask that "His will be done on earth as in heaven" is to recognize that the will of God is always the character expression of God in Jesus Christ. The prayer for "daily bread" is to recognize that all of our physical needs are cared for (Matt. 6:25,31). To pray for "forgiveness of sins" is to acknowledge that the redemptive work of Jesus has enacted such "forgiveness of sins" (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and that as "we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (I John 1:9). In particular we will appreciate His forgiveness of our sins as we allow Jesus Christ, the Forgiver to function through us in forgiving others. "Lead us not into temptation" is a prayer that we know is answered for "God does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13), but "with the temptation provides the way of escape, not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we are able" (I Cor. 10:13) to endure by His provision in Christ, thus "delivering us from evil." The doxological ending added late in the second century A.D. is consistent with the prayer pattern that Jesus proposed, for it recognizes the ontological basis of the kingdom and power and glory in the very Being of God. Christocentric prayer recognizes and is receptive to the totality of God's provision in Jesus Christ.

(72) Fasting - Matt. 6:16-18

   The third activity abused by the religionists is that of fasting. The Pharisees of Jesus' day abstained from eating on Mondays and Thursdays of each week, but in so doing they put on sackcloth and ashes, and play-acted by putting on a sullen, gloomy and sad countenance as a hypocritical show of their self-afflicted piety. This feigned "spirituality" was a sham of self-promotion. Religion in general has followed suit by engaging in self-abasing (Col. 2:23) self-abnegation and abstention as a discipline of pious "spirituality." Jesus explained that His disciples did not fast like the Pharisees and the disciples of John, for they were joyously celebrating the presence of the Bridegroom in the new covenant (Luke 5:33-39), a fulfillment of the prophecy that "the fasts will become joy and gladness" (Zech. 8:19). If and when those in the kingdom do voluntarily fast it should not be done in ostentatious externality, but as a private abstention from food in order to "count all things but loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord" (Phil. 3:8).

(73) Kingdom priority - Matt. 6:19-34

   Inordinate preoccupation with anything or anyone other than the King and His righteousness in the kingdom disallows the function of the kingdom as God intends. The central feature of kingdom living is Jesus Christ, for Christianity is Christ.

   Material "treasures on earth" can so easily become the preoccupation of our mind and emotions, to the extent that they are appraised and prized of having ultimate value in our personal priorities, and thus become deified in idolatrous covetousness. We must "be on guard against avarice and greed, for life does not consist of possessions" (Lk. 12:15), Jesus said on another occasion. Paul warned that "the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some longing for it have wandered away from the faith" (I Tim. 6:10). The Jewish culture and religion laid great stock in material things and monetary assets. Religion has often succumbed to greedy materialism that has focused on buildings, budgets and bank-accounts, rather than on God and on the expression of His grace and compassion for mankind in Jesus Christ. The secular materialism that pervades Western society today is preoccupied with transient, temporal things which are accumulated, collected, hoarded and stockpiled in ever-larger storage sheds and barns. Jesus wanted us to understand that the kingdom of God is not materialistically based, and that the attitude of possessiveness toward things is contrary to the kingdom concept of constant receptivity, even attitudes of possessiveness toward salvation, holiness, and eternal life. We are "not to fix our hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God" (I Tim. 6:17), and to recognize that the spiritual and eternal treasure is Jesus Christ. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God, and not of ourselves" (II Cor. 4:7).

   "The person who constantly covets material things does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph. 5:5). "No man can serve two masters." If Christ is Lord and Master of our lives in the kingdom, and reigns in us to manifest His character through our behavior, then the money-god of Mammon cannot be allowed to usurp the centrality of His life in us. The spiritual equation is always either/or, God or Satan, life or death, spiritual treasure or material treasure, for we will submit to and be enslaved by one or the other. Jesus is not saying that poverty is a virtue, but that our attitudes of preoccupation and priority toward God or toward material wealth will reveal the god to whom we have submitted ourselves.

   This explains the necessity for a singularity of focus whereby we "fix our eyes on Jesus" (Heb. 12:2) and "the eyes of our heart are enlightened to see the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:18). Religion has traditionally had an "evil eye" of selfish and material preoccupation. Even the religious focus on ten-percent tithing has been a focus set in the wrong place. Without a singular spiritual focus, religion is involved in a double vision that is essentially "doublemindedness, unstable in all its ways" (James 1:8). Jesus is indicating that our spiritual focus in the spiritual kingdom should be on the spiritual treasure that is ours in Christ. Our treasure-focus will determine whether we participate in godliness or idolatry. "Set your mind on things above" (Col. 3:1), and not on material wealth, profit and money which seem to gleam so brightly in the darkness and blindness of the world-system.

   Earthly possessions do not provide security and freedom from anxiety as the world advertises, but instead they produce anxiety. Therefore Jesus advises that we should "not be anxious for our life, what we shall eat, or drink, or what clothing we shall put on." There is a delusion in the illusion that the "god of this world" promotes, that there is a direct cause and effect link between employment with its monetary accumulation and physical sustenance. The handmaiden of religion has often propagated this delusion by attempting to make everyone self-sustaining, so that they will be church-sustaining, rather than being sustained by God by deriving all from Him in faith. Those in the kingdom should react differently to the pressures and problems and needs of life. By the receptivity of faith we believe that "God will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). We need not be anxious about our money-making abilities and how we are going to make a living, for we entrust ourselves to God's providential and provisional care. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made know to God" (Phil. 4:6). Anxiety denotes a preoccupation and enslavement to material things rather than to God.

   Thus our priority should be to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you." Focusing on the reign of Christ in our lives will free us from undue material concerns. The behavioral expression of the righteous character of the Righteous One living in us should be top priority in the kingdom, and such is manifested by the grace of God received by faith, not by religious conformity to external moral codes. When the visible expression of the righteous character of God is top priority in our kingdom living, God will take care of all other needs we might have. This is not fatalism or passivism, but the recognition of all sufficiency in Jesus Christ. "My grace is sufficient for you" (II Cor. 12:9).

   We need not borrow trouble from tomorrow to create anxiety concerning what tomorrow will bring, for tomorrow there will be sufficient grace to provide for that day's needs and concerns. We live in the present with the priority of allowing the personally present "I AM" God to provide for our every need while manifesting His personal character of righteousness through our behavior in the kingdom of God.

(74) Discernment in the Kingdom - Matt. 7:1-6; Lk. 6:37-42

   As the activity of the kingdom is derived from God and not from ourselves, we are in no position to engage in the judgmentalism of censorious criticism and finger-pointing that condemns others for thinking and acting different than we do. God in Christ must be allowed to act uniquely in all who are receptive to His reign in their lives. Religion is inevitably rampant with judgmentalism which justifies its own behavior while condemning others. They are engaged in the "good and evil" game first played in the garden of Eden when man set himself up as his own center of reference determining that his opinions and actions were the "good" and the "right," and all others were "evil" and "wrong." From that self-centered vantage point self-oriented religion has judged others with a critical spirit attacking dissenters with harsh verdicts for failing to conform. Jesus explained that "in the way you judge, you will be judged," apparently verbalizing the obvious reciprocity of judgmentalism whereby one side attempts to build itself up by running down the others. This breeds a constant religious sectarianism wherein nonconformists are labeled as "sinners, heretics, unspiritual," and guilty of advocating "another gospel." Those involved in the kingdom cannot assume the self-elevated position of superiority that allows them to judge or condemn another in unloving, detached objectivity, for their spiritual condition is only received by the grace of God and Christ desires to express His character of love and acceptance toward all men through us.

   Fault-finders are so often blind to their own faults, like David was when he reacted to Nathan's story of the poor man's ewe (II Sam. 12:1-7). Religion is so often blind to its own sins, and ends up being "a blind man guiding a blind man until both fall into a pit" (Matt. 15:14). Such myopic fault-finding is illustrated by Jesus in the hyperbole of having a log, a plank, a timber in one's eye while attempting to take a splinter or speck out of another's eye. Self-blinded by their own self-importance, religionists refuse to be self-critical and engage in self-examination. They have a spiritual ophthalmological impediment that disallows them to see from God's perspective. Those in the kingdom must realize that they are in no position to chastise and condemn other's faults for God graciously accepts us in the midst of our faults. His love in us does not "keep a record of wrongs" or "delight in evil" (I Cor. 13:5,6). Constantly we must examine ourselves (Gal. 6:4; I Cor. 11:28) and test ourselves in order to recognize that we are who we are only because Jesus Christ is in us (II Cor. 13:5).

   Though we are not to lambaste others in condemnation and judgmentalism, neither are we to be so lax that we are spiritually undiscerning and undiscriminating. "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine," Jesus said. In light of His constant conflict with the Jewish religionists, this statement appears to be a bold picturing of these antagonists as dogs and swine, both of which were particularly offensive to the Jews. There comes a time when the most valuable holy character of God is no longer offered to those who in their self-sufficiency are impervious to the grace of God and cannot or will not appreciate it, reacting to the gospel with contempt, scorn, rebellion and antagonism. When the hypocritical Pharisees were offended at Jesus' portrayal of them, Jesus said, "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind" (Matt. 15:14). When the Jews resisted and blasphemed in Corinth, Paul said, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I shall go to the Gentiles" (Acts 18:6). They both understood that there was a time to avoid sharing spiritual reality with those who could not appreciate such and were only enraged by such.

(75) Receptivity in the Kingdom - Matt. 7:7-12; Lk. 6:31

   The attitude of kingdom participants must always be that of receptivity. God wants to give everything to us ontologically and dynamically in His Son, Jesus Christ. His grace must be received in faith as we "ask, seek and knock." We do not try to "lay hold" of God by "storming the gates of heaven" as religion has advocated, thinking that we have a right to manipulate God by demanding and commanding what we want. To such religionists James explained, "You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so you can spent it on your own pleasures" (James 4:2,3). The kingdom attitude is faithful receptivity to God's grace activity. Those who ask receive; those who seek find; and those who knock find the door to be opened in Christ. Even religionists, identified with the Evil One, know how to be benevolent and helpful, but such is nothing compared to the grace of God in Jesus Christ whereby He wants to give us all that He has to make us all that He intended us to be. Karl Barth notes that

"The Christian understands God as the unique source of all good and himself as absolutely needy in relation to Him. He has nothing either to represent or to present to God except himself as the one who has to receive all things from Him."4

"The most intimate thing in Christian prayer is the fact that the Christian both may ask and actually does ask. The Christian is able to ask and to take because God gives Himself and all that He possesses. He freely gives us all things (Rom. 8:32). The true worship of God is that man is ready to take and actually does take where God Himself gives, that he seeks and knocks in order that he may really receive. This receiving is Christian prayer in all its centrality as petition. It does not derive from the self-will of the Christian himself, derives from what the Christian receives from God."5

   The essential intent of the Law and the prophets and all of the old covenant prefiguring is summed up, fulfilled and brought into being when Christians within the kingdom are receptive to the activity of God in them, allowing God's character of grace, love and goodness to be expressed to His glory. To be recipients of God's grace and love is what all men that God created most want for themselves, whether they know it or not, and now those in the kingdom can positively express the character of God unto others in an initiatory way by being receptive to God's activity. Such is a "golden rule" indeed, for it is God's function in the kingdom.

(76) Two Ways - Matt. 7:13,14

   Contrasting the kingdom with religion, Jesus draws His message to a close by using four illustrations to expose the dichotomy between the two. He pictures two ways, two trees, two claims and two houses, and within each He presents an antithesis that presents all men with the necessity of choosing one or the other, either God or Satan, either Christianity or religion.

   The small narrow gate is the entrance to the narrow way which leads to life, and few find it for it is not naturally attractive, comfortable or easy. Jesus Christ is the way and the life (John 14:6), and His way is the way of radical singularity in the kingdom. His way is not easily passable for indeed it is impossible apart from the receptivity of God's grace. It is not the popular road of majority opinion which pleases the masses, for it must often we walked alone seeking only God's approval. Few indeed are being saved (Lk. 13:22-30), for so many are not able or willing to submit themselves to God in receptivity. The way of the kingdom is summed up in Jesus Christ who is Himself the gate, the way, and the journey's end of life.

   The other way is a wide inviting gate entering on a broad way that leads to destruction, which many have chosen to enter. The religious way is a popular way for it is easier and expedient and more socially acceptable. There is a broad latitude of ecumenical pluralism with many ruts and ditches of epistemology and experientialism to settle in to. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12). All men will choose one way or the other, leading to spiritual life or spiritual death.

(77) Two Trees - Matt. 7:15-20; Lk. 6:43-45

   The character fruit of the tree will reveal whether one is "in it for profit" or is genuinely a prophet of God. The religious false-prophets are just wolves in sheep's clothing with insatiable carnivorous appetites to "eat people alive." Such "savage wolves" (Acts 20:29) can be so beguiling for they talk like a Christian, preach like a Christian, and use all the correct and orthodox vocabulary of Christian theology, but it is the fruit of their behavioral character and methodology that will eventually betray and reveal them. The rotten fruit of enmity, divisiveness, impurity, sensuality, etc. (Gal. 5:29-21) and the corrupt methods of power, influence, fame and success will be revealed as being derived from the Evil One, who controls all religionists as his agents (II Cor. 11:13-15). When their evil and deceitful character is revealed they face being cut down and thrown into the fire of God's judgment (John 15:6; Rom. 11:19-22), along with all those identified with them. Until then we must not become separatistic "fruit inspectors" and "heresy hunters," but allow Christ to do the separating until their selfish disobedience is exposed.

   God's prophets and people are like the good tree that produces the good fruit of His character. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and godly control of the self" (Gal. 5:22,23). The fruit of God's character can only be derived from God by faithful receptivity, and can never be manufactured by man. Those in the kingdom should be cognizant of and discerning of spiritual character fruit in order to distinguish between those involved in religion and Christianity.

(78) Two Claims - Matt. 7:21-23; Lk. 6:46

   Men will make all kinds of claims to be identified with the Lord, but there is a vast difference between those who know and submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ in the kingdom and those who merely use His name in religion. Many there are in religion who will say, "Lord, Lord," and claim to have done all kinds of "signs and wonders" in His name. They will list their religious good works of having professed God, served God, experienced God, received the blessing of God, prophesied for God, done supernatural things for God, and achieved great results for God. They think they should have special privileges from God because they have been so loyal, dedicated and committed to God. But God does not reward self-righteousness which issues forth in lawless behavior that is contrary to His character. The lawlessness of sin (I John 3:4) which is derived from diabolic source (I John 3:8) is already at work (II Thess. 2:7) in the religious endeavors that pervade the world. To such peoples Jesus will say, "I never knew you," for He never entrusted Himself to them (John 2:24) and had no spiritual oneness and intimacy with them. It is one thing to say, "Lord, Lord," for words are cheap, but it is another thing to submit to the costly lordship of Jesus Christ and allow Him to reign in our lives in the kingdom. Religionists often want to say, "Lord, Lord," but they do not want Jesus Christ to "lord it over them" and be in control of their lives. They do not want to listen under Christ in obedience and "do the will of the Father" by allowing the character of Christ to be lived out in their behavior. Only thus do we enter into and participate in the kingdom of Christ.

(79) Two Houses - Matt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:47-49

   As a final dichotomy Jesus refers to two houses which may look very much alike on the exterior, but they are built on different spiritual foundations. The wise man in the kingdom who recognizes that Christ is his wisdom (I Cor. 1:24,30) builds a "spiritual house" (I Pet. 2:5) upon the solid rock foundation of Jesus Christ Himself. Acting on His words by allowing for the receptivity of His activity, the Christian "stands firm" in Christ by the grace of God. Religion builds its house on the sands of self-sufficiency. Building with the self-righteous materials of "wood, hay and stubble" (I Cor. 3:12), the foundation of these foolish religionists will not stand. The storm tells the difference. The trials and testings of life do not overcome Christ's life in the Christian, but the foundation of self-reliance on which the religionists have built cannot endure the forces of life and their house will fall with a great crash.

   The message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount concludes with a four-fold repetition of the dichotomy between kingdom living and religious structure. All men are choosing creatures who must choose one or the other, with the complete cognition that one leads to the stability of spiritual life in Christ and the other to the ruination of spiritual destruction.

(80) Audience mazed - Matt. 7:28 ­ 8:1

Those who heard Jesus were once again amazed that "He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes" in Jewish religion. Religious teachers often regurgitate the old, second-hand interpretations of past "authorities" and scholars, or they insinuate their own self-designated authority in a new revelation or interpretation. Creedal orthodoxy and inspired personal opinions are no match for the divine authority that Jesus exhibited. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18).

   It must be reiterated in conclusion that failure to understand the Sermon on the Mount in the context of the conflict between religion and the kingdom often leads to yet another religious interpretation of His words that advocates new ethical behavior standards that Christians are encouraged to conform to or achieve. Jesus was not introducing a new covenant law system, but was giving a preview of the kingdom of grace wherein He would reign as Lord in Christians, manifesting His life and character of righteousness.


1    Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1963. pg. 132.
2    Ibid., pg. 158.
3    Ibid., pg. 175.
4    Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics. Vol. III, Part 4, pg. 97.
5    Ibid., Vol. III, Part 3, pg. 270.



 Gospels in Harmony Series